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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

The Colour of Politics or the Politics of Colour? The Reinvention of British Documentary Photography in the 1980s

Moschovi, Alexandra (2007) The Colour of Politics or the Politics of Colour? The Reinvention of British Documentary Photography in the 1980s. In: Colour Photography: From Autochrome to Cibachrome, 10 Nov 2007, London, UK (Courtauld Institute of Art).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


If one were to summarise, albeit with some degree of simplification, the morphological traits that characterize the ‘bigger’ picture of British photography in the 1980s in a single word, this would be colour; luscious, oversaturated, often purposefully kitsch colour. In the United States where photography had a stronger “sense of continuity and direction” being institutionalised much earlier than in Britain, colour had since the mid 1970s been sanctified from its commercial connotations and inherent “vulgarity”, as Walker Evans would have it. John Szarkowski’s dithyrambic take on William Eggleston’s drugstore-like colour photographs as the poetics of the everyday was instrumental not only in legitimising colour vernacular photography in the rarefied realm of high art, as the numerous “New Colour” photography exhibitions that sprang across the United States in the late 1970s manifest, but also, to a certain extent, in the 1980s re- conceptualisation of British photography, and documentary practice more specifically.
A technical determinant some may suggest, this explosion of colour, and scale no less, in British photography coincides chronologically, and ontologically, with the demise of traditional black-and-white politicised documentary, which echoing the 1970s spirit of (left) sociologism had until then dominated independent practice. Being emblematic of the emergence of subjective documentary as an expressionist, socially concerned, but no longer overtly political factographic genre and the constructed image, the employment of colour was more than an aesthetic trend. As it will be argued, it signalled an ideological shift from what came to be seen as the ‘old consciousness’ of photography and its ‘social contract’ into an ontologically distinct conceptualisation of the medium as a picture making device, of its truth value, objectivity and political engagement.

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Uncontrolled Keywords: colour photography, New British Documentary, snapshot aesthetic, art museum, representation of politics
Depositing User: Alexandra Moschovi


Item ID: 14453

Users with ORCIDS

ORCID for Alexandra Moschovi: ORCID iD

Catalogue record

Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2022 14:58
Last Modified: 27 Jan 2022 15:00


Author: Alexandra Moschovi ORCID iD

University Divisions

Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries


Fine Art > Curating
Photography > Documentary Photography
Fine Art

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